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Onboarding vs orientation: Your questions answered

By | Published on | 5 min read
<span id="hs_cos_wrapper_name" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_meta_field hs_cos_wrapper_type_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="meta_field" data-hs-cos-type="text" >Onboarding vs orientation: Your questions answered</span>

Some organizations believe that if they provide employees with an onboarding experience, they don’t need to also provide employee orientation. Or, perhaps, the other way around. 

Although they typically happen toward the end of the hiring journey, the onboarding and orientation processes aren’t interchangeable. Rather, they work together to provide a solid foundation for your new hire to work from. 

Both onboarding and orientation serve different purposes in the hiring process and come with unique benefits and challenges.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is strategic, comprehensive new-hire training designed to promote employee engagement and get employees adjusted to their new positions quickly. During onboarding, new employees gain the knowledge and abilities they need to become proficient in their roles, so they add value to your organization.

The onboarding process is generally made up of a few different components: Preboarding and/or orientation, introducing the new hire to the company, and a buddy program.

Preboarding for a smooth orientation 

Certain organizations begin the onboarding process before their new employee’s start date by providing them with an office tour, emails with key company information, or even a care package. This is typically referred to as preboarding. It can eliminate the need for paperwork on day one and helps you shift into orientation more quickly.

We’ll discuss orientation a bit more later, but the process is focused on getting your new employee comfortable within their position and within the company.

Building a foundation for a new employee

New hires won’t be able to retain all organizational information—like company culture—in the first few days or weeks on the job. It’s important to highlight the major foundational aspects of your company and its mission instead of giving a complete history of the organization. By providing your new hire with only the main pillars of your organization during this time, it can help them absorb this information without feeling overwhelmed.

In its “Creating an Exceptional Onboarding Journey for New Employees” report, Gallup identified five questions to address that lead to “exceptional” onboarding experiences for new hires:

  1. “What do we believe in around here?”
  2. “What are my strengths?”
  3. “What is my role?”
  4. “Who are my partners?”
  5. “What does my future here look like?”

By providing your new employee with the answers to these questions, it will help them become comfortable within their new role—and within the company at large—faster and more effectively.

Working with an onboarding buddy

Many companies provide onboarding mentors—typically co-workers—to support new hires. These “buddies” are either seasoned employees or recent hires, and the program can be formal or informal. The point of onboarding buddies is to help new employees through the process by offering guidance as a peer.

Overall, your onboarding program is intended to help new hires become familiar with your company’s culture, develop relationships with leaders and colleagues, and understand how the company uses knowledge, resources, and tools. To wrap it up in a one-sentence summary: The primary goal of onboarding is to empower your new employee for their new job and the organization as a whole.

What is orientation?

An orientation program is a one-time event—typically begun on an employee’s first day and lasting up to a week—in which new hires sign the necessary paperwork and become familiar with your company’s structure and policies. Although orientation is its own process, it’s typically a component of an organization’s larger “onboarding” program.

The purpose of orientation is to familiarize new employees with basic company information, along with personalized information for the employee (e.g., payroll, benefits, etc.).

Each organization’s orientation process is tailored to the specific company and position, but the basic series of events include:

  • An overview of your organization
  • Individual employee-related details
  • Day-to-day employee expectations

During orientation, your new hire will likely work with both your team and human resources.

Onboarding vs orientation: What is the difference?

Orientation is one part of onboarding, but the two aren’t interchangeable. If effective onboarding is a whole pizza, orientation is a single slice. To discover the differences between orientation vs onboarding, just split the employee training process into the following parts.

Part 1: Orientation

When you’re providing new employee orientation, Trello recommends the three Ps:

  • Presentation: Introduce your new employee to your company’s mission, values, and culture. You can easily share this information using a Trello board template.
  • Paperwork: Provide your new hire with all company paperwork to read and sign. This paperwork should provide information about company policies, employee benefits, and any other “administrative” details.
  • Procedures: Teach your new hire any technical processes like finding and using their company email address and accessing any relevant software, tools, and platforms.

Once you’ve covered the basics with orientation, it’s time to move into more role-specific training.

Part 2: Role-specific information and training

Your onboarding process should include a strategic and comprehensive agenda that covers your new employee’s first few weeks (typically 30 to 90 days) on the job. Make sure your agenda includes the following components:

  • Introductions: Set up brief meetings between your new hire and team members, cross-company colleagues, and leadership teams. 
  • Goals: Discuss company-wide, departmental, and individual key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Training: Provide your new hire with all the materials they will need to learn the ins and outs of their position.

To keep your onboarding process organized and running smoothly, try one of Trello’s onboarding templates.

What are the benefits of onboarding and orientation?

Onboarding and orientation are two parts of the same overall new-hire process that helps introduce an employee to your organization, the people who work there, and their job responsibilities.

The benefits of onboarding

Onboarding is an important process that sets your new employee up for success and helps them feel more connected to their role within your organization.

Appeals to new employees: More than 80% of new hires who had a positive experience during onboarding continue to think highly of their company.

Boosts productivity: Creating a standardized onboarding process for new employees can boost their overall productivity by up to 50%.

Professional satisfaction: Employees who have had an “exceptional onboarding experience” are 2.6 times as likely to feel “extremely satisfied” with their workplace.

The benefits of orientation

Orientation helps new employees get acclimated to their new company and role, which makes them feel like part of the company culture more quickly. Additionally, when new hires know what is expected of them, it reduces their initial workplace anxieties

Employee orientation saves company time by providing workers with an overview of your organization’s departments, environment, and expectations. The new hire’s manager can build off of these overviews once onboarding is complete.

Get more onboarding guidance

Hiring a new employee is a lengthy (and expensive) process, so you want to make sure you’re providing them with the most comprehensive onboarding experience possible. If you’re overwhelmed or lost in the process, read up on Trello’s new employee onboarding best practices and reevaluate your agenda and program. 

Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!

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